Titan isn't the only Hunter campaign contributor with business in Iraq. The congressman has been one of the most effective fundraisers in the House. And the war in Iraq has done nothing but enhance his appeal. During this 2004 campaign cycle alone, from January 2003 through this March, the congressman raised $701,488; $418,588 of that was from individuals and the rest from corporations and political action committees. Many individual donors list their employees as government contractors. That puts Hunter on schedule to exceed the $785,000 he raised during the last two-year cycle, between January 2001 and December 2002.
In addition to his personal campaign committee, Hunter operates the "Peace Through Strength" political action committee, which so far this cycle has raised $69,625 from the same group of corporate donors, as well as transfers from political committees run by Hunter allies in Congress. During the 2002 election cycle, the group raised $47,450. Proceeds have been doled out to political friends of Hunter, both House members as well as San Diego-area politicos running for local office.
Hunter is not the only congressman to use the system to his advantage, of course. His fundraising is far exceeded by that of Illinois congressman Dennis Hastert, speaker of the house, who so far this cycle has raised $2.9 million, much of which he hands out to favored Republican congressional candidates. Hastert's take from political action committees alone is $1.2 million. At least ten other congressmen have raised more than Hunter.
But Hunter enjoys a safe seat in the 52nd District, stretching from the upscale outskirts of San Diego, over to La Mesa and Spring Valley, northward through Lakeside, Poway, and Ramona, and on through backcountry to the northeast corner of San Diego County. What does he need all that money for? Many of the regular voters who live in his district are white registered Republicans who supported the war in Iraq. Many are National Rifle Association members who don't like gun control, welfare mothers, or Democrats. They have sent Hunter to Congress 12 times.
The congressman, who will turn 56 at the end of this month, saw Army service in Vietnam as an officer with the 173rd Airborne and 75th Army Rangers. Upon his return from the war, Hunter used the G.I. Bill to get a degree from Western State University law school in 1973. He was first elected to represent California's 52nd congressional district in 1980, the year of Reagan's landslide. Hunter trounced 18-year congressional veteran Lionel Van Deerlin, a liberal Democrat and ex-TV commentator who had been dogged by small scandals during his last years in the House.
Almost as soon as Hunter was elected, the Republican leadership named him to a seat on the Armed Services Committee, where he built the status needed to seize the chairmanship after Arizona congressman Bob Stump retired in 2002. As representative of one of America's biggest military bastions, studded with Navy and Marine installations and some of the country's most sophisticated high-tech weaponry contractors, Hunter is counted on to deliver the federal largesse that's been the region's bread and butter since World War II.
This November Hunter will face Democrat Brian Keliher, a 42-year-old San Carlos resident and 1994 graduate of San Diego's Thomas Jefferson School of Law who bravely promises to give the incumbent a serious challenge. That's more than Hunter's previous Democratic opponents have done. And through March 31, Keliher has reported raising only $5515, most of it in small contributions from friends and family. It appears he's not much of a threat.
"Partly I was redistricted, gerrymandered, into Duncan Hunter's district. I had Susan Davis, who I was completely happy with. I think she's a very good representative," says Keliher about why he decided to oppose Hunter. "I decided to run this time for a couple reasons. It must have been around September or October last year, I believe. There were reports about the flak jackets. Our fighting men and women in Iraq, many are without [them]; parents are buying flak jackets and sending them."
Of his fledgling campaign, Keliher says, "We are on the lower level and growing quickly. But I'm hearing every day from motivated individuals who say, 'We don't agree with Duncan Hunter. We don't like what he's doing.' So it's going to be a grassroots campaign. It's going to be a lot of shoe leather. We'll print up some flyers. I do believe we'll raise enough money to possibly get some TV commercials."
And Keliher insists he might have an angle, if to do nothing else than make Hunter squirm in an election year that has been soured by those increasingly bloody reports out of Iraq and the ugly Abu Ghraib prison scandal. He's been digging through the congressman's campaign-spending records, hoping to find a silver bullet with which to end the political career of the man who is one of the most enduring and powerful pillars of Washington's defense establishment.
Keliher has discovered that records indicate Hunter likes the good life, and, according to the financial disclosures, his campaign fund pays for it. The filings, Keliher says, portray an extravagant, jet-setting lifestyle at variance with Hunter's strictly business military countenance and vaunted middle-class, officer corps roots. In short, Keliher alleges, Hunter is a phony.
"For him this is a personal piggy bank," Keliher says. "The defense contractors give him money in his campaign war chest knowing he's going to spend it on his own personal spending spree. We like to say Duncan is living large, in a sense. So they give him this money, he in return takes care of them when it comes to contracts and such, like the Boeing deal and so on, and everybody's happy.
"Except the constituents. Over half of his money last election was from out of state, not just out of district. I think he spent about 70 percent of it out of the district. He's not connected to the district. He's a 24-year incumbent so far removed from his constituents that they're not getting what they need as far as representation."